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UN: Drug Addiction Rates Soaring in Afghanistan

Jun 21, 2010 – 4:47 PM
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Betwa Sharma

Betwa Sharma Contributor

(June 21) -- The rate of drug addiction in Afghanistan is twice the global average, according to a new United Nations report that also shows Afghans have become the leading consumers of their own opium.

Released today by the U.N. Drugs and Crimes Office, the study found that about 1 million Afghans between the ages of 15 and 64 -- or roughly 8 percent of the population -- suffer from drug addiction.

The most striking trend is the massive increase in the use of opium, heroin and other opiates, which has nearly doubled in the past five years and has 3 percent of the adult population addicted, according to the U.N.
Javed, an Afghan opium addict, injects another addict with heroin inside the ruins of the former Russian Cultural Center in Kabul, Afghanistan in 2009.
Altaf Qadri, AP
A United Nations report released on Monday says the rate of drug addiction in Afghanistan is twice the global average. Here, an Afghan addict injects another user in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The study also says the number of parents who give opium to their children can be as high as 50 percent of drug users in the north and south of the country. Women, in fact, are more likely to give opium to children and family members.

"The next generation of Afghans risks being condemned to a life of addiction. And addiction will grow exponentially, as each family on average has half a dozen kids," said Antonio Maria Costa, chief of the UNODC.

"Many Afghans are taking drugs as a kind of self-medication against the hardships of life," he added, noting that Afghans were also taking drugs as refugees in camps in Iran and Pakistan.

After three decades of war and easy access to cheap narcotics, Afghanistan has not only become the leading producer of drugs; it has also seen its own addiction rates soar in recent years, the report said.

Compared with a similar survey conducted in 2005, today's report shows the number of regular opium users has jumped 53 percent -- from 150,000 to 230,000 -- while the number of heroin users has increased from 50,000 to 120,000, a leap of 140 percent.

Afghanistan produces 92 percent of the world's opium, which is the raw material for heroin. Last year a U.N. report found that heroin from Afghanistan has created a market worth $65 billion, catering to 15 million addicts, and causing up to 100,000 deaths a year.

That report -- titled "Addiction, Crime and Insurgency: The Transnational Threat of Afghan Opium" -- also found that the Taliban makes more money from opium production now than in the 1990s. Its profits from taxing opium cultivation and trade has increased from $75 million to $100 million a year a decade ago to $90 million to $160 million today.

Costa noted that it is time to recognize that a tragedy is unfolding in Afghanistan. "The human face of Afghanistan's drug problem is not only seen on the streets of Moscow, London or Paris," he said. "It is in the eyes of its own citizens, dependent on a daily dose of opium and heroin above all -- but also cannabis, painkillers and tranquilizers."

The study released today found a typical Afghan drug user to be a 28-year-old father of three who is married but not living with his wife. He is unemployed and cannot read or write. The drug user is also poor, with an average monthly income of 5,500 Afghanis ($110) and may have to steal or borrow money to satisfy his addiction.

While women drug users are far fewer than men, they are typically widowed or divorced, uneducated and not likely to have a job. The U.N. notes that the number of women and children who are addicted to drugs is probably much higher than what is known.

At the same time, the U.N. reports that drug treatment in the country is utterly inadequate: 90 percent of drug users in the survey said they needed help, but only 10 percent had received any treatment.

The U.N. called for the international community to provide more resources for drug prevention and treatment in Afghanistan, as part of mainstream health care and development programs.

"I invite the nations that support Afghanistan's efforts to curb drug cultivation to help it as well overcome its drug-related health crisis," Costa said.
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